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Journalism Information Literacy Framework

Authority Is Constructed and Contextual

Sources that journalists consult reflect the knowledge and experience of their creators. Evaluating sources for inclusion in a story depends on the type of story being told and the context in which the sources will be used. Authority is constructed given that people, including journalists, and communities recognize and rely on different types of expertise and judgment. Authority is contextual in that the type of story a journalist tells or the type of information they need to inform themselves on a topic will determine the expertise, insights, and/or judgments they seek.

Journalists evaluate sources for accuracy, transparency, reliability, and relevance to a story. Novices are beginning to understand that relevant sources are important for telling a story, and that there are multiple ways to assess the veracity and usefulness of their sources. Experts view authority with informed skepticism and recognize their responsibility to consider the opportunities and constraints of the information sources they consult. These include the biases and privileges inherent in the people, organizations, archives, databases, and documents that journalists use. Novices understand the need to corroborate sources wherever possible, but may struggle to ask relevant questions about the origins, context, and suitability of their sources, and to consider a range of positions on a topic. Experts identify and address competing insights or observations in their sources, and hold themselves and their sources accountable for the information they glean and share. Experts cultivate habits of lateral reading that result in source evaluation that extends analysis of any one source into coverage of the same topics by other authors and sources. Both novices and experts turn to knowledgeable people where appropriate, to help them distinguish which sources are authoritative or not (e.g., community leaders, scholars). However, novices may demonstrate an overreliance on sources recommended to them by professors, coworkers, and peers. Experts recognize their own viewpoints and backgrounds and how these may influence their evaluation of sources and the way they tell a story. Experts understand that expanded access to digital communications and publishing technologies also disrupt authority in journalism. Those global technologies enhance opportunities for expert-level news gathering and reporting, but also enable contested claims over how authority as a journalist is defined.   

Knowledge Practices

Journalists who are developing their information literate abilities

  • identify and describe different types of authority related to a story topic, such as academic expertise, lived experience, and information that is and is not publicly available;
  • recognize the institutional role of journalists and a free press in American society as rooted in sets of professional standards and ethical practices and laws, with authority based within these shared principles;
  • understand the historical, political, sociocultural, and economic contexts/motivations that shape the creation and distribution of sources;
  • challenge the assumption of authority based on reputation or position and consider a range of contextual factors when determining the quality of a source (e.g., the source’s motive, track record, point of view, and confirmability);
  • challenge the assumption that a source is reputable simply because it appears in multiple places or is repeated by various news outlets, particularly given the highly interconnected environment in which journalism operates and in which information is shared;
  • recognize that the relevance of a source depends on the source’s awareness of, proximity to, or other expertise pertinent to the subject of that reporting;
  • recognize that information is dynamic such that journalists must be vigilant in staying up-to-date on their stories without compromising integrity;
  • identify colleagues or communities of practice to whom they can turn for help assessing the value and validity of the information in their reporting;
  • seek out a diversity of voices, ideas, and angles when considering who or what is authoritative or credible to include in a story;
  • seek out sources or individuals that bring forward the voices of Black, Indigenous, or other historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and those of underrepresented genders (including cis women, trans women, trans men, non-binary people, and those who are otherwise marginalized).

Dispositions

Journalists who are developing their information literate abilities

  • know that they and their work become a source of information for the general public, which renders them an authority with the ethical responsibilities that come with that kind of impact;
  • develop an awareness of the challenging nature of evaluating sources, particularly in a dynamic and highly distributed environment;
  • acknowledge that journalists and news organizations work within an environment of competing commitments (public interest, profit, attention, bias, trust), which can affect their independence, the quality of their stories and the information sources they consult;
  • reflect on their own biases and how those may influence how they select and evaluate sources for inclusion in a story and/or in the messages they create;
  • bring a robust sense of skepticism and critique to the sources they consult to discern bias, reliability, and verifiability, while also acknowledging the skepticism that viewers, readers, and listeners bring to the media they consume;
  • identify whose voices may be missing from a story and how to include them wherever possible and appropriate;
  • are conscious that maintaining these attitudes and actions requires persistence, reflection, and self-evaluation.